NFL free agency is dominating the news headlines and that probably won’t change over the next week. Players are switching teams for big money, guaranteed contracts or more playing time. There’s been no direct correlation to NFL teams winning in the off-season and then winning the Super Bowl — some of the biggest team winners the past few years have been the Eagles, Redskins, and Dolphins — but teams that do make big splashes can hope for an uptick in ticket sales. That’s about the only business benefit a team or players can see immediately from free agency. Player personnel moves generally won’t move the marketing needle.
It is rare that a player with a high Q score hits free agency. The last time it happened was Peyton Manning. Manning left because the Colts had real concerns over his health and were lined up to take Andrew Luck in the NFL Draft. Most big-name, big-endorsement players stay put. There are a few reasons for this. The personal brand must be strong enough to separate the player from his team. It would be weird to see Drew Brees off the Saints or Tom Brady in another uniform other than the Patriots, but they could probably still be effective endorsers off their current teams.
It’s also in the best interest of the team to keep players that have been in the community. They have built up cache and are easily marketable, especially to local companies. Julian Edelman isn’t going to be leading Nike campaigns, but he can appear in a local car commercial.
Edelman has been with the Patriots his entire career. He probably wouldn’t land a similar deal if he left via free agency. The same can be said for most free agents this year.
Teams may use their new talent to draw people to the stadium, but the players don’t get more money for being part of a team activation. Teams may be able to say that signing a certain player makes their sponsorships more lucrative, but partnership deals run on longer terms. Teams can’t say they deserve more money because they signed someone like Ndamukong Suh.
The NFL is dominating the news cycle during free agency, but it is rare to see players benefit other than their current contracts. In other leagues — such as the NBA — players are pitched the benefit of moving to a bigger market for bigger endorsements, but that generally doesn’t happen in the NFL. For now, free agency is a time for fans to get excited, and then wait six months for the return of football.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.